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Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. The theme of the conference is Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – The Gospel and the EFCA. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA. You learn more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here, with registration here.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

Our preconference will also be excellent, as we address, in a debate format, the important theme of “Genesis and the Age of the Earth: Does the Bible Speak Definitively on the Age of the Universe?” This will be followed by a time of focusing on the application of these matters in the context of a local church, providing guidance to pastors and leaders as they think about, navigate and lead through these discussions.

During the Conference we have also planned a gathering of young pastor-theologians, or those who have been engaged in vocational ministry for five years or less. During the lunch hour on Thursday, February 2, we will meet in the conference room in the Waybright Center.  If you fit this description, or if this would apply to someone with whom you serve in ministry, or someone you know, please either plan to attend or encourage that other person to attend.

My desire is to come alongside those engaged in the first years of pastoral ministry. Although there are many larger churches in America, most are smaller, which means many/most will begin pastoral ministry in a solo setting, or with possibly one or two other staff persons. This is also true in the EFCA in that almost 80% of our churches consist of 250 attendees or less. And in most of these instances, it is expected the person serving in the pastoral role has already figured out most biblical, theological and pastoral issues. However, this is inaccurate. They are, rather, engaged in working out the final step in their theological formation, that of pastoral theology, which consists of applying the truth of God’s Word to specific situations and the lives of people. Too often the assumption, inaccurate I may add, is that this step is either already done, or because other learning of the Bible has taken place, this happens naturally.

Recently I read the following from Mentoring Others, which was a statement made about a PCA church:

The members of the presbyteries know their theology fairly well, but when it comes to applying their theology in daily life, they desperately need help. It is one thing for us to teach systematic theology in intensive courses; it is another thing to help those who haven’t seen it modeled learn how to raise children, or how to live together in harmony, or how to resolve interpersonal conflicts.

This gets to the heart of pastoral theology. I consider this to be the final step in the process of moving from the Bible to theology. As one has written, Pastoral Theology

answers the question, How should humans respond to God’s revelation. Sometimes that is spelled out by Scripture itself; other times it builds on inferences of what Scripture says. PT practically applies the other four disciplines [exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology and systematic theology] – so much so that the other disciplines are in danger of being sterile and even dishonoring to God unless tied in some sense to the responses God rightly demands of us.

Too often, we demarcate between the more academic and the more churchly approach to the discipline of theology. The more academic and theological is for the academy and the more pragmatic and practical is for the church. This is profoundly wrong and hurtful to the church.

I also listened to an interview with Leith Anderson, NAE President, and Daniel Aleshire, Executive Director of The Association of Theological Schools: Trends in Theological Education. Something Aleshire said resonated with what I noted above and resonated with my sense of how many approach pastoral ministry, particularly those who have received formal theological training, either a Bible degree from a college or a MDiv degree from a seminary. They receive all the academic training focusing on the Bible, theology, Christian education, missiology, history, etc., with little pastoral theology. This is a bit overstated, but more often than not, accurate. And then when these students enter pastoral ministry, they encounter many pastoral matters regarding marriage, finances, counseling, addictions, infertility, gender dysphoria, etc. Because these are pastoral issues, too often these new pastors set aside or forget what they learned in seminary and they pursue a pragmatic, practical direction, as if the foundation they received in seminary has nothing to say to any of these matters. This increases the bifurcation, and it means pastors become more practically or pragmatically driven, rather than biblically and theologically driven. They ought to move from the foundation established in the Bible and theology to discern how that forms and shapes their pastoral response to these issues.

This is not to suggest students in Bible college or seminary are not involved or engaged in a local church ministry. The expected assumption is that they are. But there are vastly different expectations and requirements leading in that context in a pastoral, vocational capacity than it is to do so in a non-pastoral, not vocational capacity. It is important to note that I do not believe this is the seminary’s primary responsibility. It is the church’s responsibility. The church has all-too-often given over all of the pastoral training to the seminary, and the seminary has taken it, some by default and some by design. This leaves a huge gap in the learning and training provided by the Bible college or seminary, one which they are not designed to give. Therefore, we expect too much from the seminary, while the church abdicates our primary responsibility.

Here is my point. Because there are few helping young pastors to apply the biblical and theological foundation they have received to the pastoral issues of the day, i.e., to engage in the discipline of pastoral theology, the final discipline in moving from the Bible to theology, it is important for us in the EFCA to help those in the first five years of ministry do this very thing. These first five years are the years in which these questions and answers are given, one’s pastoral theology is forged and formed, which become the habits and disciplines of one’s pastoral practice, which, in turn, become formative for the duration of a person’s pastoral ministry over a lifetime.

If you are a young pastor-theologian or you have been in pastoral ministry for five years or less, please plan to attend this gathering.

As we begin a new year, we read and pray the words of Moses, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12, ESV). The key to what Moses writes is that we ask God to “teach us to number our days.” This addresses not only the brevity of life, that we are but a breath (cf. Ps. 39:5), but also the importance of using our days wisely (cf. Eph. 5:16). This requires that we “consider our ways,” to examine and reflect on our ways and days, so that we ensure we live life faithfully coram Deo, before the face of and in the presence of God.

The purpose we are to live with an awareness of our ways and days, is “that we may get a heart of wisdom” (ESV). Other translations state the same thing in the first half of the sentence, but they differ in the second half, seeking to capture the essence of God’s intent through Moses. Here, for example, are a few of the other translations, which shed further light on the purpose of this request, this prayer (emphasis mine): “that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (NASB); “that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NIV); “so that we may grow in wisdom” (NLT).

Thus we pray we may “get,” “present,” “gain,” and “grow” in wisdom. What is this wisdom? It is reflective of God (Job 12:13), is given by God (Prov. 2:6), and consists of a right understanding of God, which results in a life lived accordingly under God. It is wisdom that only comes from above (Jms. 3:17). Ultimately, wisdom is identified with Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and who is the source of all the Christian’s wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). Wisdom is Christological.

Asking God to give insight, wisdom and discernment about life godliness and vocation is not dependent on the turn of the calendar to a new year, or the celebration of a birthday or anniversary, or some specific or particular day. That posture before God can and should happen on a regular basis, and God’s commands and leading ought to be begun when the Lord prompts. As has been stated, delayed obedience is disobedience. As believers who “live by the Spirit” and thus enabled to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25), we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7b-8).

Paul David Tripp takes issue with making resolutions during the new year, but he does recommend making commitments, “rooted in the gospel” and which believers “have been empowered, and should be excited, to make”: Don’t Make Resolutions. Make Commitments

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. While I understand the desire for fresh starts and new beginnings, none of us has the power to reinvent ourselves simply because the calendar has flipped over to a new year. But since the gospel of Jesus Christ carries with it a message of fresh starts and new beginnings – because of the forgiving and transforming power of God’s grace – looking forward at the year to come does give us an opportunity to give ourselves anew to practical, daily-life commitments that are rooted in the gospel. Let me suggest seven commitments that all of us have been empowered, and should be excited, to make. . . . So, as the new year unfolds, don’t fool yourself with grandiose resolutions that none of us has the power to keep. Rather, celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ and it’s huge catalog of graces. Re-commit yourself to living every day in light of what you have been given in and through your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, in spite of these concerns, with which I concur, and grounded in and empowered by the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is a time/opportunity to ponder these sorts of spiritual matters in our lives. And as we do so, it is not something done on a whim, and neither is it something done in one’s own strength or power. That is why so many resolutions fail: they are not God-directed and not God-empowered.

Donald Whitney is one who has been very helpful in the areas of spiritual disciplines and the basics of the Christian faith. Here is one of his lists in which he asks some questions for us to ponder, which I have previously referenced: Consider Your Ways: 10 Questions to Ask in the New Year In another essay, Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time, Whitney addresses reasons (read excuses) why one does not have time to spend in the Word and in prayer. In response, he writes, “before you completely forsake your daily devotional time, you might consider a few things.” He then lists a number reasons for engaging in the spiritual disciplines, In conclusion, Whitney acknowledges some of the challenges we face as we engage in the spiritual disciplines, and that “significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?”

Karen, my wife, and I spent time discussing the questions listed by Whitney earlier this week. It was a fruitful time together. I pray it will bear fruit the rest of the year. I share them with you with a prayer you will press on faithfully in and with the Lord this year.

Here are a few questions as you seek before the face of God to number your days: More generally, what are the spiritual disciplines in which you need to continue? What are those in which you need to grow? What are those you need to begin? Regarding some of the basic spiritual disciplines, what is your Bible reading plan? What is your plan to commune with God in prayer, individually and corporately? What sin of the flesh needs to be put to death, and what fruit of the Spirit needs to be nourished?

We will all experience joys and sorrows in the year to come. We know some of them, but most we do not. However, we do know God who is immutable (unchangeable) in his “being, perfections, purposes and promises” and we can and will trust him.

Whitney concludes, “So let’s evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, ‘The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage’ (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let’s also remember our dependence on our King who said, ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

 

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Scott M. Manetsch, Professor of Church History, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will focus on the ongoing legacy of the Reformation. He will focus on the fruit God produced in and through the Reformation and also its broad and expansive impact. Not only was this gospel-centered movement against the foundational beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, both in doctrine and practice, it was also foundationally grounded in the gospel with its reach affecting everything related to the major tenets of doctrine, the church and the Christian life. The reason for this fruit and its pervasive and ongoing influence is that the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Much of what we do today as pastors in pastoral ministry in the local church has been influenced and affected by what God did in and through the Reformation. We live the fruit and legacy of the Reformation without truly knowing it. This is some of what we will learn as we focus on the extent of the Reformation’s reform, which will be a fitting conclusion to our focus on the Reformation.

The Extent of the Reformation’s Reform: Word, Church, Ministry and Worship

Although one can pinpoint and highlight a few key doctrines that were central to the Reformers and the Reformation, the impact was far-reaching. There was nothing of life and ministry that remained unaffected. This is particularly true regarding the local church and pastoral ministry within the local church. The Word became central and the central authority. This was reflected in the role the Bible played in the corporate service and the prominence given to the pulpit. This also affected how the church was composed and understood. All believers were priests, there was no necessary intermediary between believers and Christ, and Christ alone is the Priest at the right hand of the Father who is the mediator between God and humanity. This was affirmed in the priesthood of all believers (note the plural, not the singular). This also had an influence on how they considered ministry within the church, which was extended to families. This transformed the way pastoral ministry was considered and conducted. The corporate singing as the people of God gathered was also transformed, since the whole priesthood was called upon to sing praises to God. These truths transformed the hymnology of the church. In this lecture we will focus on the key ways the Reformation transformed most everything about the church and pastoral ministry, and what we ought to learn today and experience a new Reformation.

Scott has addressed this topic numerous times over the years. One of his major works focuses on the ministry of John Calvin and his training of pastors: Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). The fruit of this work has been presented in conferences in the EFCA, Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, and it has encouraged many. He also serves as co-editor with Timothy George of the helpful and insightful Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Each of the commentaries in this series “consists of the collected comments and wisdom of the Reformers collated around the text of the Bible,” which serve as “a unique tool for the spiritual and theological reading of Scripture and a vital help for teaching and preaching.” Scott provides his own input in his own forthcoming contribution as editor of the work on 1 Corinthians: New Testament Volume 9A (Downers Grove: IVP Academic).

Scott has been associated with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the capacity of a student, receiving his MDiv and MA from TEDS, and as a professor, teaching in the Church History department since 2000. As noted above, he has spoken at our EFCA conferences on the topic of “The Reformation of the Pastoral Office” and he has also addressed this theme in a brief article emphasizing Three Important Pastoral Lessons. Last fall, at the EFCA Great Lakes District conference on the theme “The 5 Solas: Celebrating 500 Years,” Scott spoke on the topic of Sola Gratia.

Scott is a premier church historian of the Reformation. He is committed to the authority of the Scriptures in the life of the pastor and in pastoral ministry in the context of the local church. He finds great delight in teaching and training future pastors for this privileged task. He also recognizes the important role history plays in understanding, learning, forming and shaping pastors and ministry today. As a church historian and churchman training pastors, Scot also serves as a model of a pastor-theologian. I have learned and continue to learn much from Scott, so I am grateful he will share that learning with other pastors and leaders at our upcoming Theology Conference. 

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Kenneth N. Young, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ministries, University of Northwestern, will address the important topic of creeds, confessions and catechisms. In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows: “Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.” The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use.

The concern is that either the creed or the confession supplant or replace the Scriptures. That is a legitimate concern, but not a result that is inevitable. One must recognize the difference between and the different roles played between the Scriptures, which is the norma normans, which is consistent with sola Scriptura or absoluta Scriptura, and the norma normata, that which is normed by the norm, the Bible. One explains it in this way: “All creeds are more or less imperfect and fallible. The Bible alone is the rule of faith (regula credendi), the norma normans, and claims divine and therefore absolute authority; the creed is a rule of public teaching (regula docendi), the norma normata, and has only ecclesiastical and therefore relative authority, which depends on the measure of its agreement with the Bible. Confessions may be improved (as the Apostles’ Creed is a gradual growth from the baptismal formula), or may be superseded by better ones with the increasing knowledge of the truth.”

Finally, a catechism is the manner in which the Creeds and Confessions, the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, are passed on to others. Once again there are fears that are real, such that knowing certain doctrinal truths does not necessarily equate with spiritual birth or maturity. Neither of the latter issues will be realized apart from doctrinal truths. But the former does not equate with spiritual birth. Even the demons believe (Jms. 2:19), which means, they are, in a sense, orthodox. But they shudder before God, in that they do not believe such that they are born again, and they are condemned to eternal damnation (Jude 6). Luther and the other Reformers and post-Reformers, believed it important to equip God’s people with doctrinal truth. This was the means they used to propagate the faith. Luther summarized the effects of introducing his catechism in this way: “I have brought about such a change that nowadays a girl or boy of fifteen knows more about Christian doctrine than all the theologians of the great universities used to know.” Evangelicals in the Free Church today need to ask what role Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms play in our own lives and in the ministries to God’s people in local EFC churches. They are being spiritually formed by something. We need to ensure they are being formed to the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, in both head and heart (Matt. 22:37-39).

The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms

A supernatural work of God in renewal and revival is often accompanied and sustained by structures in order to sustain the fruit from the good work God is doing. If no structures are put in place, God’s work among humans often dissipates or implodes. The long-lasting fruit that can and should be born is lost. One of the important ways the truths of the Reformation, those major truths of sola Scriptura and justification by faith that were rediscovered, were taught and passed on was through creeds, confessions and catechisms. These were written to be used in the church and in families at home. Consider the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Belgic Confession (1561), The Thirty-Nine Articles (1571), The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), and others. Consider Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), The Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and others. These tools, rooted in the Scriptures, profoundly grounded, formed and shaped the children of the Reformation. And yet, as good and right as this was, something was missing if one attempted to look to the structure of creeds, confessions and catechisms to produce spiritual fruit apart from spiritual life. The Pietists responded to this. And yet, Pietism gone too far emphasized the internal and subjective at the expense the creed, confession and catechism. Both of these movements make up the historical and theological stream of the EFCA. In this lecture we will focus on the proliferation of confessions and catechisms, how they were used, their strengths and weaknesses, and what sort of tool/structure the church needs to foster and sustain the good work God is doing today.

Kenneth received his D.Min. in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, and he also received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary. He presently teaches at the University of Northwestern, a role he has had for the past many years. Although Kenneth’s primary ministry at the moment is in the academy, he is a pastor theologian who is a committed churchman. This is validated in that in addition to his theological ministry in the academy, he has served for many years as a local church pastor. Many of those years in pastoral ministry have been with the EFCA, both as a church planter and a sr. pastor, where is also is ordained. He has also served in other leadership roles within the EFCA. Much of his ministry has focused on the intersection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, particularly in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am grateful Kenneth will join us to address this important topic.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will address the important topic of sola Scriptura and absoluta Scriptura, Scripture alone is the final and absolute authority, and how we move from Scripture to theology. As this is done, it is important to discern and assess how church history, historical theology and tradition are to be understood and aid in this process. The twin problems of Biblicism on the one side and traditionalism on the other has caused rifts and problems in the church of Jesus Christ. There is a place for and a way to move from the Bible to theology, with a consideration of tradition. Even though history or tradition does not serve a magisterial role, it does serve a ministerial role. And as a matter of fact, in practice all believers do this. Anytime we read Scripture and attempt to discern what it means with the goal of personally living out that truth, of applying it in our lives, we engage in this process. We desire to do it well, and to teach and model it well for the people of God.

The Reformation, Sola Scriptura and Tradition

One of the major rediscoveries and commitments of the Reformation was sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. This was not necessarily a novel idea, but the view that had generally been taught and accepted throughout history. The Reformers were fighting two battles regarding the doctrine of the Scriptures. On the one hand, they were responding to the notion of the authority of the Pope over against or as a competing authority to the Scriptures. On the other hand, they responded to the enthusiasts, those who wanted to elevate personal, subjective experience to have an authoritative role that compromised the authority of the Scriptures. Tradition played an important role in these debates. In fact, the Reformers used tradition to affirm the truth of sola Scriptura. This doctrine is not the same as solo scriptura or nuda scriptura, i.e., there are no other authorities. The key was that the Scriptures were the absolute authority. Evangelicals have not often treated history and tradition well. In this lecture, we will focus on sola Scriptura and the role tradition plays in our theology, with a twofold focus on what we learn from the Reformation in order to do theology and engage in theological discourse, and how we ought to respond to challenges to Scripture today.

Kevin has addressed this topic numerous times over the years. Here is a select list of a few of those important works (some he served as co-author, some as editor and the Four Views he contributed an essay).

First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002).

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005).

Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Influence Trends (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).

Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014).

Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015).

The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015).

Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016).

In Kevin’s most recent book, Biblical Authority After Babel, he addresses specifically the five solas of the Reformation. Last fall, at the EFCA Great Lakes District conference on the theme “The 5 Solas: Celebrating 500 Years,” he spoke on one of those solas, Sola Gratia.

Kevin has served on the TEDS faculty from 1986-90, from 1998-2009, and from 2012 to the present. What brought him back to TEDS most recently was his commitment to teach pastors for local church ministry, which is one of TEDS’s primary commitments and ministries as a theological educational institution. Kevin is the quintessential theologian, and is considered the premier contemporary evangelical systematic theologian. Kevin has served us in the past having spoken at our 2015 Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. As a fellow theologian, I am personally thankful for what I have learned and continue to learn from Kevin, both his speaking and writing. We are grateful he is able to join us at our Conference and that he will be addressing this important topic with us.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.